By now you must have heard of Sole (of Anticon), the once Maine rooted Live Poet who destroyed and rebuilt his foundation in the Bay Area, heading up the don’t-label-it-anything (abstract-smart-experimental-deep-pretentious-nerd-white-poetry-rap) Anticon collective. One thing most people already know about Anticon is that it is not radio friendly, not mix-show friendly, and more college indy-rock friendly than it is college indy-rap friendly. While there has been an overabundance of releases from the entire radon-threatened Anticon massive, and truthfully it’s harder than needle-dropping each one to separate the good from the bad, there is definitely talent here, even if this stuff gets hated on thanks to its, to quote Sage Francis, “so different”, devastating not-Hot 97 mentality.
While Anticon has had more critical favorites than consumer favorites, Sole’s Selling Live Water is a perfect example of what Urb would call hip-hop on “the bleeding edge”. The bleeding edge of what you ask? With this release Sole and perhaps his entire collective is on the bleeding edge of becoming the next (dare we say it) definitive juxtaposition of hip-hop – but he’s not there yet. (All he needs is cooler artwork and constructive criticism).
Selling Live Water shows growth from Sole – he’s matured as an emcee, and come somewhat more down to earth (yet not fully grounded), with this release, bringing the usual banquet of sarcasm and social ranting we’ve grown to love (or hate) him for. Less strange chanting this time around (which is good), and the beats have vastly improved, but more on that in a minute.
Sole starts off on “Da Baddest Poet” with an excellent first verse, where he vaguely beats around the bush to what-could-or-could-not-possibly-be-subliminal-disses, reflecting on his one-time beef with El-P : “Went for Rupert Murdoch’s throat and left with Rawkus trying to sign me / You can’t buy me, I’m holding my chips till I land on last base / I didn’t burn any bridges; I never needed none of them in the first place.” Yet while Sole holds back from saying what he really may want to say and is admirable for taking the high road, by the time “Shoot The Messenger” or “Salt on Everything” hit, listeners will be scratching their heads trying decipher to his riddling-rhymes, even with the included lyric book.
Nevertheless, sometimes Sole’s music is best ingested sitting on a couch blunted, as his voice becomes one with the music, rhythmically riding the beats, as found on “Respect Pt. 3″, “Tokyo”, and “Plutonium”. But while Sole is spitting fast with lots of vocabulary, the bottom line here is that it’s poetry and you’re not going to get it all, but it sounds dope. Sole’s literally a ghost-faced pen killer – one that if he spoke in fewer riddles and was more straightforward, he could reach a lot more people (i.e. Aesop Rock “Labor Days” vs. “Daylight”).
Where Anticon has stepped up as a whole with this release is with the beats. Jel gets dirty on two wonderful tracks – on “Respect Part 3″, he incorporates hard-hitting drums with somber grooves and a haunting Portishead vocal sample. Meanwhile, Jel’s best beat comes in the form of the album’s crown jewel (one of them) “Sebago”, as Sole’s paints a paranoid picture of a mushroom-trip flashback. But the real star producer here is Alias, who produces the majority of the album’s tracks, and it’s easy to see why. As one of the most underrated producers out there, Alias creates wonderful audio soundscapes that you can truly feel. Beats with emotion, tracks you can visualize, adding incredible dimension to Sole’s lyrics. Peep “Slow Cold Drops”, where Pedestrian speaks through Sole, and Alias speaks through them both. Or feel the somber horns and contrasting hard-hitting drum kicks on “The Priziest Horse”, an excellent track where Sole pours his heart out, in fear of falling off. Or check Alias’ most incredible concoction “Tepee On A Highway Blues”, where Sole examines white man vs. red man. Peep these joints and then say you aren’t feeling Anticon.
But back to Sole – this is probably his best album yet, however he’s still advancing past the common listener He may have not reached super-emcee status yet (and may never want to), but all it would take for him to become the underground’s rap savoir is to tweak his lyrics a bit – to speak to us, rather than over us. It might make Selling Live Water to out-of-towners with cameras even easier.
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